Litigation Support Specialists (probably) Save The World

I have spent a majority of my career in the litigation technology career field.  There have been a lot of changes since I started in this very unique area of technology.  There are so many aspects to this job.  One day it is trial presentation technology.  Another day it is correcting problems with load files and getting them to work in a document management system.  It is a constantly changing world for us.

One of the things I have learned about this line of work is that there will always be people who will have more knowledge than me.  In the beginning, I have to be honest and say that I wanted to be a “star” among my colleagues.  I became the go-to person that others could call on.  I volunteered to teach classes and spent time on committees and planning conferences.   There was an early pioneer of the field who once said if you weren’t working 55-60 hours a week then you weren’t doing your job.  I tried that and found that all I got was more work.  It was a trap door of “what have you done for me lately” life of going from one thing to another.

My personal life at the time only added to that need for stardom.  The breaking point came when I was in a committee meeting and another member on the committee totally destroyed any ideas I brought to the table.  That person was a new rising star in litigation support and it was clear my own star was burning out.  I have to evaluate my life and see what was really important to me.

In recent years I have learned to only do what I can do and leave work at work.  That 55-60 hour work week is dumb.  Get a life outside the office.  In fact, the pioneer who said that passed away a few years ago.  I often wonder if that mentality was the cause.  I hate to break this to you but if you work those hours, when you die they will just hire someone else.  That’s just how it is.  There will always be someone else they can step in that can do the job better than you.

You and I might be called on to save a trial but it isn’t saving the world.  We are good at what we do but we also need to share the knowledge.  This isn’t magic where we can’t share our secrets.  It’s actually to our benefit to share what we know.  While there will always be those who know more, it benefits the whole litigation support community when we exchange our knowledge.  I have had people to ask me how did I learn some things and I tell them it has usually been due to my experience.  Getting in a jam and having to figure out a solution or being yelled at by a judge in the courtroom.  In our field, there is no degree from a college or technical school.  We have learned by doing and networking with others in our community.

In my opinion, there is no room for arrogance.  Unfortunately, I see this trend increasing within our own ranks.  We all need help with something so it’s good not to burn those bridges.  I have called people only because I valued their knowledge only to be looked down upon because I either didn’t know the information or I wasn’t in their secret group.  There is no need for this kind of behavior.   I have learned invaluable advice from my colleagues in this field over the years.  I wouldn’t have gotten this far without that help.

Here’s some advice I would offer from my own perspective:

  • Those who want to be stars will eventually flame out
  • Someone will always know more than you
  • Do what you can do and do it well
  • Share the knowledge
  • Get a life outside of the office

We are all good at what we do or we wouldn’t be doing it.  We all are strong in some areas and weak in others.  Our job is to assist the legal staff with using technology.  We aren’t competing against each other.  If a colleague calls upon you for advice, don’t be condescending but feel good that they have confidence in you.  Contribute to the community and your fellow litigation support colleagues.  Help others in their quests to save their world.

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Name That CODEC

It happens pretty frequently that someone in the legal staff will encounter issues when attempting to play an audio or video file.  They will come to me asking why the file won’t play.  If they are trying to use Windows Media Player, the error message will usually be:

codec1

I will try to attempt an explanation on what a CODEC is and why they need it but their eyes quickly gloss over.  They don’t really care what it is, they just know that it isn’t playing and they want you to fix it.

So what exactly is a CODEC?

A CODEC is a file that codes or decodes audio and video files such as MP3, WMA, WAV, etc.  In other words, the file format needs this CODEC file to translate the transmission of audio or video.  Yeah, I know, I can’t say for sure that I still understand it or can dummy it down to explain it to my attorney.

So how to you know what CODECs are needed?

I usually try to play the file on different computers.  When I am able to get the file to play, I then compare the CODECs.  For Windows Media Player, you can do this by going to the “About Windows Media Player” and click on the link for Technical Support Information:

codec2

Then you will scroll down to the list of audio and video CODECs on the file:

codec3

So now you can print this out and take it with you to the computer that does not have the CODEC.

Another nifty thing you can do to identify the CODEC if you have TrialDirector is to run a command at your command prompt:

“C:\Program Files (x86)\inData Corporation\TrialDirector 6\TrialDirector6.exe” graphedit

This command will open up a window then you drag your file into the window:

codec4

So what if you can’t play the file to compare the CODECS?  How can you identify the missing CODEC?

If you can’t play the file anywhere in your office then you will need to download a third party software to find out what’s missing.  There is a freeware called GSpot that can help with this.   GSpot is a Windows-based freeware program designed to identify the codecs.  Of course, as always, be careful when you download any freeware programs.

Another alternative to using Windows Media Player is using a program called VLC which is a media player that is a free and open-source, portable and cross-platform media player.  Many times VLC will play files that Windows Media Player will not.

If you have worked in litigation support any length of time, you already know that sometimes you need to find more than one software or solution to programs we encounter in the legal world.  Many times it isn’t a quick and easy solution and in a world of digital audio and video files, it can be challenging.  Networking with other litigation support professionals is important as well.  If you have any solutions that work for you, please share in the comments.

 

 

Common Litigation Support Issues

Digital-Age-1024x710I have been in the Litigation Support career field for the past 21 years and I have seen just about every type of technology issue and glitch possible with new ones occasionally popping up to test my abilities.  Litigation Technology has changed during this time and the problems I encounter change with the technology.  In this blog, I have come up with a few tips and tricks I have learned along the way:

  • “How do I play this?”
    • This is the most asked question I get now from the legal staff in regards to audio/video they receive.  When I first started, you had tapes.  With tapes, you knew what they were and how to play them.  Today, you get a disc or flash drive with audio and video files on them.  Usually, these files are not in a standard format so I have to figure out how to use third-party players to play them or download the correct (and approved) CODECs for the staff to review the media.  One of my constant “sermons” to the attorneys is to bring their attention to thinking of how they expect a jury to review the audio/video.  Many times they don’t think of this until the jury is deliberating and have to play the files.
  • Encrypting Discovery
    • This is a painful but necessary process for us now.  We have to be cautious of sending data out and safeguards to protect the information from accidentally getting in the wrong hands.  I have to tell folks not to include the password ON the media they send it because that kinda defeats the whole purpose in securing the data.  It is also a challenge when our encryption software doesn’t work for opposing counsel when they have McIntosh systems or some other issues which block their access to the data due to the encryption software we use.   We have to navigate around this very carefully.
  • Sound Problems In The Courtroom
    • Routinely I have paralegals reporting that they are experiencing feedback or other sound issues in the courtroom when connecting their laptops.  Court reporters will be the first ones to fuss about this problem and rightly so.  Any audio feedback inhibits their ability to do their jobs in capturing every word said in court.  Two things usually resolve this problem.  First, simply plug in the audio cable into the headphone jack of the laptop even if you aren’t using sound.  Leaving the audio cable loose or hanging free will cause some interference.   Second, plug an AC adapter to the power cord on the laptop.  In most cases, the power is too close to the audio ports and using the adapter adjusts the power so that it muffles the interference.
  • Processing Data
    • It’s always good to be on the front end when attorneys request data.  Doing so can save time and complications by ensuring you get the data in the correct format or simply know what’s coming so you can be prepared.   I have had people hand me SATA hard drives and ask me to review it.   Seriously?  A SATA hard drive?  I might as well be the Great Carnac.  It is essential that we enforce our Electronic Discovery policy so that we can avoid receiving a data dump.  E-Discovery is no longer something new and foreign anymore.  I am quite strict on people following our E-Discovery specs.  When I receive something, if it doesn’t meet our specs I return it.  You can only do this if you have a policy in place and communicate this to the staff.
  • “I have a hearing in 15-minutes….”
    • Yeah, this is something I don’t think we will ever avoid.  We have courtrooms that have absolutely no presentation technology so at times I will get this phone call from an attorney needing to play audio or video at a hearing.  I always wonder how these hearings pop up at the last minute but, as we all know, it does no good to complain about it.  We have to act and get it done.  It is very important to anticipate these situations and have equipment ready to roll.  In fact, I have a “mobility cart” nearby that is wired with a short-throw project and speakers that can be rolled to any courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Every office has those “last-minute” people so it’s good to know that when the time comes, you can respond.
  • Be open to new technology
    • If you are like me, you support people who can be resist to new technology.   We can’t be like that.  We must be willing to try new things that will make the work of our legal staff more efficient.  When we find something that works, we must sell it and be excited about it.  Recently, I was able to get an iPAD with TrialDirector and introduced it to the staff.  People have been resistant but once one or two paralegals have used it in court, they always want to use it now.

Okay, this isn’t an exhaustive list but a few things that are common and some things I have learned to deal with them.   Litigation Technology is constantly changing.  Advancements continue to be made so we have to stay on the leading edge of the technology to ensure our attorneys and legal support staff have the tools that will make them successful.  That’s also a huge thing to keep in mind.  I have met others who want to create some kind of competition with other offices or agencies.  A good litigation support or litigation technology specialist will keep their focus on the people they support and not get involved in some sort of technology arms race with other litigation support professionals.  We have to get the job done for the people who are in the front lines in our office.

One saying that I think is a good one to live by as a litigation support professional is:  “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

Working With .VOB Files

In the various video file formats I have to work with in litigation, one of the most common are .VOB files.  A .VOB file is the container format in DVD-Video media files.  VOB (Video Object) files can contain digital video, digital audio, subtitles, DVD menus and navigation contents which are put together to stream the content of a DVD.

VOB
This is what a DVD-format video file looks like.

 

If you have a DVD and just want to play it, you will never need to know about .VOB files but when you have to convert it or capture clips from it you will need to find a way to do this.  Sometimes you can just simply play a .VOB file in Windows Media Player or Videolan (VLC) player separately.  There are times when you can simply change the file extension from .VOB to .MPG and it will work the same but it doesn’t always work depending on how the file is coded.  Although a VOB file is essentially an MPEG file, it could have additional data that might be needed.

Perhaps the safest way to convert a .VOB file is to use a video conversion program.  I sometimes use AnyVideoConverter.  Doing so will ensure you can keep it seamlessly and not risk losing any important information or any loss in quality.

If you need to convert a DVD to play in TrialDirector, there is a nifty program included which will make life easier.   It is called the inData Digital Video Disc (DVD) Extractor.  It is very easy to use and can export the output to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2.  This is a useful tool if your attorney hands you a DVD to put into TrialDirector.  This utility will extract the DVD format into a more user friendly form for TrialDirector.

DVDextractor
inData’s DVD Extractor utility helps convert DVD format to MPEG.

With an video conversion, you must always use caution that you aren’t altering the video file or degrading it in any way.  There have been some instances when I have converted a VOB file only to discover that the video and audio did not match up or the time code was missing or different than when the legal team reviewed the original DVD.  Also, you have to stress to the legal team to provide you with the video files with ample notice as sometimes conversion doesn’t always happen instantly.

20 Minutes

20

“Hey, I need to play a video in a hearing today.  The hearing is in 20 minutes.”

Yeah, I’ve gotten that one a lot.

When you are a Litigation Support Specialist in any law office, you are going to have these moments.  I have done this for over 20 years and I certainly understand the pain we must endure.   My problem has always been when these “last-minute” notices come from the same people every time.  My argument has always been, that you are enabling these people by responding to the lack of notice they give.  If you do it, they will do it all the time.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I know emergencies are part of the job.  It isn’t an emergency when people always fail to plan.  Most of these hearings don’t just pop up out of thin air and, usually, a hearing doesn’t just materialize in 20 minutes.

It takes a lot of patience to manage these situations.  The most important thing is to never take it personally.  We are here to perform a job and when they ask we are supposed to jump in and get it done.  It’s not always an easy thing to manage.  To be fair, issues do come up in cases that even the attorney doesn’t know ahead of time.  The problem is with the repeat offenders.  The best we can do is to keep communication open and continue to express the need for notice.

If something doesn’t work guess who gets the blame?   Yes, you guessed it.  Welcome to our world.

It always goes back to that saying:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

So why do we have repeat offenders who fail to plan?

  • Planning is not a priority.
  • Lack of knowing how to plan.
  • Apathy
  • Planning is more work.
  • Resistance to change.

So, how can a Litigation Support Specialist manage these moments?

  1. Talk to the repeat offender’s supervisor.   When you do this, don’t go into the conversation aggressive or offensive.  Just calmly explain the issue and how important it is to have adequate time to properly prepare presentations with the equipment needed to be used in court.  Don’t case a blanket over everyone.  Give them the names of the offenders.  Even if the supervisor does nothing about it or blows off your concern, at least you have brought it to their attention.
  2. Have a quick-response plan.  If audiovisual support is needed, have a cart or equipment ready that can be rolled into a courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Have all cables and connectors on the cart.  Be the professional and do the job.  Never agree that this behavior is okay.  Sometimes people will apologize for the notice and it’s easy to just say “It’s okay” when it’s really not.
  3. Talk to the repeat offender directly.  Explain to them calmly how better it would flow if they did a better job at giving you more notice.  I try to explain the process of setting up equipment and making sure everything is working.
  4. Say “No”.  Yes I know this is a hard one because I’m sure you’re like me and you want to respond.  Sometimes you need to let them learn the hard way why it is important to give you more notice.   If you do this, be prepared to take some flak for it.

You want you and your firm to look good in court.  Planning for contingencies is an important part of doing that.  Obviously, you can’t anticipate every possible scenario.  Many times I have been asked endless “what if” questions.  My answer always is that we will just deal with it as it happens.  Our co-workers have to understand the importance of giving adequate notice in order to have quality work.  If they fail to understand that, it will eventually come back to bite them.  The key for us is to just do our best in responding and confronting the issue in the appropriate way.

 

 

 

 

Litigation Support On Call

hurry-man

One thing you can count on with litigation support is that you don’t always know how your day is going to flow.  There are some days that you can simply throw your schedule in the trash can.

To be sure, the one thing you can’t control is the lack of someone else to plan ahead.

I was reminded of that lesson this week.

Yes, this week.  The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day which is usually supposed to be the “slow” week.

I came in one morning and was working on a few projects when I got an urgent call that an attorney who needed to play a video in a court hearing.   It was 10 a.m. and the hearing was set for 10:30 a.m.   The courtroom, of course, had no presentation equipment so I got my cart that I keep ready for these situations and wheeled it down the hallway along with a projection screen.

I also pulled out my emergency necktie and sport coat and raced off to court.  It’s a good thing I keep those nearby.  I can’t say that everything matched but I was presentable and met the dress code for being in the courtroom with the attorney.

I quickly set up the projector and screen.  The attorney brought in the laptop and I had everything ready to go within 10 minutes.

Although I get annoyed with the lack of planning by others in situations like this, I know this is part of the job will never change.  The best thing you can do is be prepared for this to happen.  I was glad that I had the equipment on a cart and was ready for these contingencies.  After over 20 years doing this, you have to be ready.

Here’s what’s on my cart:

  • Projector with adjustable lenses (because you just don’t know what the projection angles will be)
  • Remote Control for projector
  • VGA cables with audio
  • Extension Cord
  • Cord covers/gaffer’s tape
  • Laptop power adapter (attorneys usually forget them)
  • Portable projection screen

In addition to the equipment items, I usually keep a few sport coats hanging on the back of my door and a neck tie in my bag that match my clothes I’m wearing that day.

As far as the court hearing goes, the video played without a hitch and no one knew the anxious moments leading up to the video being played.

 

 

 

 

12 Days Of Trial Prep

Most litigation technology specialists who have been in this field for a number of years can identify with these “12 Days of Trial Prep”…..

(sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”)

On the first day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
A bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the second day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the third day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fourth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fifth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Five——–days ‘til trial,
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the sixth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——– days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the seventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five———days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eighth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the ninth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——— days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the tenth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eleventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the twelfth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Twelve angry jurors,
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.